3 Common Questions About Antibiotics Answered by a Doctor

Dr. Lyndsey Garbi
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  1. If my child has yellow or green mucus in their nose, does that mean an antibiotic is needed? Not necessarily. Antibiotics are only needed for bacterial infections, not viral infections, and yellow and green mucus is often caused by viral infections. The 'common cold', which is a viral infection, will usually start out with clear drippy mucus and then develop into a more yellow and green thick mucus. This can last several days, sometimes as many as ten days, and still just be a simple virus.  One sign that can indicate a bacterial infection which needs antibiotics is a fever for more than 3-4 days or thick mucus that continues past 10 days. Talk to your doctor about the issue and they can help you determine whether it is necessary to start an antibiotic, or if you should wait to allow for the infection to safely clear on its own.
  2. Can a viral infection turn into a bacterial infection? It is possible for a viral infection to turn into a bacterial infection, but most viral infections do not turn into bacterial infections. Usually when your child has a runny nose, cough, red eyes, and fever, it is most likely a viral infection, otherwise known as “a cold.”, and most colds do not turn into bacterial infections. It's important to not take antibiotics for a viral infection, since antibiotics can cause side effects, such as diarrhea, and some children are allergic to antibiotics. It is very common for young kids to get viral colds - many kids who are in child care can get 6-8 viral colds per year.
  3. Do antibiotics cure sore throats? Only in a minority of cases. Over 80% of sore throats are not caused by bacteria so antibiotics do nothing to help with them; most are caused by a virus. It's also especially rare for children under 3 years old to get bacterial throat infections, such as strep throat, that require antibiotic treatment. A strep test can be done to ensure the correct diagnosis, but many doctors won’t recommend one when it is unlikely to be strep. If your child has a sore throat, you should discuss with your doctor and they can help determine whether it makes sense to do test for strep.